History

Our Founder

The Center for Humans and Nature was founded in 2003 by Strachan Donnelley, a philosopher and civic leader who saw a fundamental need for an organization dedicated to the exploration of humans and nature relationships. Donnelley’s formative early years hunting wild ducks on Illinois marshes were as important to his remarkable life and career as his professional studies of philosophy and bioethics.

The threads of thinking from “magic mountains,” his term for the philosophers who played a central role in the evolution of his worldview, and his on-going experiences within the “living waters,” as he called his lived experience immersed in the natural world, were woven together to shape his life’s work. A self-described “fly-fishing philosopher,” Donnelley founded the Center with the intention of bringing deep and diverse thinkers around the same table. His belief was that the lively exchange of a wide range of ideas and perspectives might lead to truly big ideas, the ideas we need to navigate the waters of our time.

“The totality of life is what interested my dad. He wanted to live it, first and foremost; then try to understand it; and then work to use that full life and its contemplation to better this earthly world, its humans and nature alike. Throughout this ambitious endeavor, my dad remained ever humble—he was equally convinced of the need for deep thinking as he was of the fundamental limits of the human capacity to understand the natural (including human) world and its workings. A favorite line of my dad’s was ‘Ignoramus: we are ignorant.’ But that didn’t stop him from always trying to learn and understand more about the world in which we live, and nor should it stop us.”

—Ceara Donnelley, Donnelley’s literary executor and fourth of his five daughters
Strachan Donnelley

Strachan Donnelley’s book, Frog Pond Philosophy, was published posthumously in 2018. This collection of essays was co-edited by Ceara Donnelley and Bruce Jennings. The vivid and personal essays, rooted in Donnelley’s everyday experiences, offer a distinctive perspective on big questions of life, meaning, and responsibility.

In addition to Donnelley’s writings, the Center for Humans and Nature is his living legacy, continuing to offer a gathering place for those who are asking life’s big questions—through the Center’s publication platforms, events, and other on-going partnerships.

Responding to Change

“I have lately been thinking about our world and its evolutionary life as one vast, temporally deep frog pond. We humans consider ourselves at the center of all things significant and meaningful, right in the middle of the frog pond. We need ‘bullfrog philosophers’…individuals who move us humans off-center, to find a seemly and right lily pad upon which to live and croak, morally moved by a central concern for the overall and indefinite well-being of the frog pond as a whole.”

—Center founder, Strachan Donnelley, from Frog Pond Philosophy

In a time of rapid change, along with intersecting social and ecological challenges, there is a strong need to cultivate connection with each other and the whole community of life. The Center for Humans and Nature is a place where these seeds of interconnection and understanding are sown and grown for a more resilient future. The Center’s publication platforms amplify the work of visionaries who are illuminating how principles of reciprocity, care, and justice apply to the whole community of life. We share stories and ideas from philosophers, poets, authors, academics, artists, and activists who are committed to sharing multidisciplinary and multicultural approaches to knowing the world. The Center exists to provide a hub for this community to work collectively toward a socially and ecologically interconnected future.

The Future

In Libertyville, the Center belongs to breathtakingly beautiful prairie, savanna, wetland, woodland, ravine and riparian ecosystems.  The land is the ancestral homelands of the Council of Three Fires—the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi—as well as the Kickapoo, Sioux, Peoria, Miami, Sauk, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Meskwaki, and other Native Peoples. We recognize and celebrate the unbreakable ties to this land for Indigenous Peoples past, present, and future. We commit ourselves to listening deeply to the wise teachers in our midst who have thought about human relationships with this land since time immemorial.

We will continue to seed ideas through our publications and through land practices that contribute to resilience and regeneration. We will continue to reimagine our cultural systems and institutions in a way that can help all of us live into more beautiful ways of knowing and being. And we will continue to nurture spaces where we can connect, listen, and learn about who we are—and who we want to be—as members of the larger community of life on Earth. 

We hope you will join us on the path ahead

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